Workin’ for the (China)Man in Dixie
More Americans are working for Chinese bosses – and some are fuming.
Haier was the first Chinese company to build a factory in the U.S.
The “Great Recession” has been a boon for economically conservative pundits and blabber-mouths all across America. According to them, it seems, many of our nation’s fiscal woes can be solved by simply (1) installing a Republican (i.e., non-socialist) as president, (2) forcing China to revalue the RMB to make it, GASP, stronger against the Dollar, and (3) moving iPod/iPad/iPhone/etc. manufacturing back to the United States, because it would be the moral thing for Apple to do in light of the recent Foxconn suicides.
But here’s news for you folks, so long as Joe Main Street loves to over-consume at a bargain basement price (and so long as a living wage manufacturing job in the U.S. remains a pipe dream), the jobs are staying in China, and the trade imbalance is staying here. Apple, my friends, is not in the morality business. And Americans, as we all know, are either too lazy, too good, or too economically savvy to pick their own vegetables at the going migrant-worker rate.
Other options? Well, Obama has warned that we should avoid the temptations of protectionism. In addition, there’s a growing grassroots/populist movement amongst Americans (those wealthy enough to afford it any way) to buy American, and avoid the “Made in China” label like the bird flu. In true capitalist fashion, they say: “The market gets to decide, and we are the market!” But, ironically enough, it is American protectionist policies which has blurred the lines between what, exactly, is “buying American” and what is “Made in China”.
In this extremely interesting recent piece from Fortune magazine, “Made in U.S.A.”, requirements have played a material role in causing Chinese companies to create American jobs in the United States. Spurred on by a declining cost difference between setting up shop in China as compared to doing so in the U.S., intense courtship in the form of incentives and tax credits from recession-stricken U.S. states and towns, and both official and unofficial protectionist policies, Joe Main Street has, at times, found himself with a new chopstick-toting boss in town. But, to give credit where credit is due, most such Americans have not griped about it, but are grateful and happy for the steady work in difficult times.
Just as US companies were dreaming about massive Chinese markets, Chinese companies are likewise making increasing headway in US markets.
Except, as the article notes, some are griping. Despite bringing home many times more pay than his or her Chinese counterpart, American workers have objected to Chinese bosses, even though they’re working for a Chinese company. Sure, excuse it on the cultural differences at work (as the article does), but I doubt you’ll see any great complaints against the Germans at the Volkswagen factory.
Even more enraging, however, is the flap about the flags which involved a call into Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. Note carefully, that the Chinese flag was, in fact, NOT flown higher than the American flag, but only perceived to be so from a particular view point. But, instead of telling Limbaugh to stick it, Haier did what the model minority is expected to do – it apologised and lowered the Chinese flag such that no optically challenged Good Old Boy can ever again make the honest mistake (insert scoff here) of thinking that the Chinese flag was being flown highest. Never mind the argument of “so what if the Chinese flag was, in fact, being flown higher?” Way to stick up for yourself, Haier, by apologising for someone else’s bigotry and idiocy. Now you’ve got to admit, the article opens the floor to some interesting questions. Who are you hurting now if you refuse to buy Haier? How else will conservative bigotry rear its ugly head? Will working for the (China)man in the cradle of Dixie ever be truly accepted by the American public? I guess we’ll be finding out soon.
As the article notes, Chinese companies are here to stay in the United States, for better or for worse. Globalisation is not just a one-way street anymore; just as US companies were dreaming about massive Chinese markets, Chinese companies are likewise making increasing headway in US markets. The Chinese as boss – now that might take some getting used to, especially for some Americans who can’t fathom being second fiddle to the Chinese in anything.
This post was originally published on china/divide in July 2010.